Quitting drugs or alcohol is only the first step of recovery; it is what follows that is most difficult. Long-term sobriety is a lifelong commitment requiring you to change old habits for new, healthy ones, rebuild relationships, and deal with the initial reasons for taking substances.
If you started your recovery at a treatment centre, it is likely that they will offer you continued support as part of their aftercare or alumni programmes. The following are ways that they may help you to strengthen your addiction recovery or ways that you can do this by yourself:
- Identify triggers
- Celebrate small wins
- Enact behaviours that increase self-esteem
- Continue to attend support groups and therapy
- Rebuild relationships
- Take responsibility for your actions
- Remain open to change
- Build new habits
- Help others
- Introduce music into your recovery
Relapse starts before you physically take the substance again. You experience emotional and mental relapse before physical relapse. It is therefore very necessary to recognise the signs of emotional and mental relapse so that you can prevent physical relapse. Signs to look out for include:
- Compulsive behaviour
- Returning to addictive thinking patterns
- Spending time with people who use drugs or alcohol
- Irrational and irresponsible behaviour
- Getting into situations where drugs or alcohol feel like the only way to escape
These signs may develop as a result of being triggered so it is important that you recognise your own personal relapse triggers. Common triggers include stress, financial issues, people you used to take drugs with, places where you used substances, and mental health.
Celebrate Small Wins and Enact Behaviours Which Enhance Self-Esteem
Recovery is not linear. You may be on an upward trajectory and then hit a plateau, a low, or even relapse. It is crucial not to let this destroy your motivation. Up to eighty percent of people who find long-term sobriety had at least one relapse on the way. It is very normal to feel low during recovery.
Make sure that you celebrate small things each step of the way. Having small goals makes it easier to achieve them and to continue feeling motivated on your recovery journey. For example, if you are feeling depression from withdrawal symptoms, your goal might be as simple as cooking one day. Later you might have goals of exercising or seeing a friend for coffee once a week.
People with addiction problems often feel guilt and shame relating to their addiction. Building self-esteem is important for reducing these feelings. If you experience success in one area of your life, it can positively affect other areas of your life. You might consider taking up a new hobby such as an instrument or a sport where you can experience small successes as you improve. This could increase your self-esteem and reduce your chances of relapsing.
Support Groups and Therapy
If you attended a treatment centre, it is likely that you had access to support groups and therapy while you were there. It is important that you continue going to these once you have finished treatment. The 12-step programmes have been shown to be very successful, but part of this success requires that you continue going to your meetings and dedicating yourself to recovery. If you are going to a different type of local support group, you should also keep this up. Speaking with people who are going through the same thing as you can help you to not feel alone in your recovery. You can give each other tips to prevent relapse and stay sober long-term.
You should continue to see a counsellor or therapist after your treatment, especially if you have a co-occurring mental health problem. Underlying mental health issues are a risk factor for developing an addiction; drug and alcohol use can lead to increased or new mental health issues. Therefore, it is important to deal with these issues so that you won’t be tempted to use substances to self-medicate again.
Rebuild Relationships, Take Responsibility for Your Actions, and Remain Open to Change
It is common for people who have an addiction to push away those they love. Recovery is much easier when you have a good support network, and rebuilding relationships with loved ones can help to develop this. This will require you to take responsibility for the effects your addiction had on them. Have open and honest conversations with your loved ones where you allow them to share how they have been affected. It will take time to rebuild trust but if you keep focusing on being honest, with time your loved ones will gain more trust in you again.
It is also important that you remain open to change during your recovery. As mentioned, you may experience highs and lows during the recovery process or you might get stuck in recovery, where you feel there is no way forward. There is a high chance for relapse if this happens as you may not see how you can continue with your recovery. If you are open to change and are honest with yourself, you can recognise the reasons that you get stuck and change things so that you can continue your path of recovery.
Build New Habits and Help Others
There are environmental factors which can increase your chances of developing an addiction. These include being exposed to drugs or alcohol in your environment by the people you spend time with. Once you are in recovery, it is especially difficult to refrain from taking substances if you are spending time with people you used to take drugs or alcohol with. You may need to stop seeing those people and this could be very difficult if they are friends or partners.
Creating new healthy habits and new sober friends can help make this easier. Healthy habits might include regular exercise, healthy eating, meditation, and volunteering. By volunteering you can put the focus on helping others so that you are not always the one in need. This will make you feel more fulfilled and may distract you from your own problems and help you to see beyond yourself.
Introduce Music into Your Recovery
Finally, music has been shown to have very positive effects during recovery. Playing, listening to, and dancing to music all have benefits. There is even evidence-based therapy which has developed due to the knowledge that music can help with many problems: music therapy. Even listening or playing music yourself can help with self-awareness, self-expression, stress relief, mental health, and cognitive performance.
These are just some of the ways that you can strengthen your addiction recovery journey.
The road to long-term sobriety is difficult, but if you continue to stay motivated, you can achieve it.